young /yəNG/, n.

When I was eight, I wanted to become a marine biologist. My 2nd grade teacher loved teaching her classes at a level above and beyond what was required by state standards and curriculum. One of these “extra,” personal passion units was a several month-long unit on oceanography.

I’d never been particularly interested by science classes in school even when I was little, but I ended up falling in love with marine biology. Every so often, I’ll still check milk cartons to see if they contain carrageenan, and when I was nine, I begged my parents to buy me an encyclopedia on marine mammals from Costco. I read it cover to cover.

Almost everything I did in my spare time between the ages eight and nine could be related back to marine biology. I read books about dolphins, I collected various sea otter plushes, and I asked to go to the beach and return to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

That was the last time I’d gone to the Aquarium, and over time, I stopped thinking so much about dolphins and sharks.

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Aquarium views | Photo by Courtney Cheng

Then about two years ago, Facebook put a few videos of rescued baby sea otter pups at the Shedd Aquarium onto my timeline, and I decided that it was about time for me to pay another visit to my significant otters.

(Story break: I once made a typo while texting a friend so my message about a “significant other” turned into one about a “significant otter.” Thankfully, my friend and I agreed both significant others and otters were important and adorable.)

As I said about travel last week — I don’t get a chance to do it very often, so my want to return to the Aquarium spent a couple years taking shape. Despite the time that had passed since 2nd grade though, my recent trip to Monterey this weekend still found me returning to the joy and latent love for marine biology of my eight-year-old self.

Before heading to the Aquarium on Sunday, I spent Saturday exploring other parts of Monterey, like Old Fisherman’s Wharf and Cannery Row, with Candle Boy. As two Bay Area urbanites, we both found it incredibly refreshing to go to a place where the location’s natural beauty was more prominent than its buildings.

It’d been years since I’ve seen the ocean (not from afar), and I’d long forgotten how beautiful sand dunes were. Along the coast, the air feels cleaner than it does in the Bay, the smell of salt on the breezes is refreshing, and the entire atmosphere is such a change of pace from our usual lives.

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Beach views | Photo by Courtney Cheng

There was little reason to check our phones — aside from the moments we whipped them out to take Boomerangs (and in his case, catch Pokémon). I loved having the freedom of not being tethered to my phone or feeling obligated to other responsibilities aside from what was right in front of me in the present. It was such a novelty, and in some ways, a luxury.

On Sunday, when we actually went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, my wonder took on a more childlike state.

Nature in and of itself is already a thing of great awe and amazement. But I think the ocean and all of its life, because it is so far removed from our average, land-dwelling lives, offer us even more chances to admire and learn about the creatures we would never otherwise encounter.

Seeing all of these marine creatures was also a beautiful reminder that we aren’t at the center of the universe, and that so much more exists beyond the scopes of our lives, be they human, animal, or nature. We shouldn’t behave as if we are all important.

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Photo by Courtney Cheng

Now that I’m home again (and preparing to go on another adventure with Candle Boy this weekend!), I only wish that we’d had more time to more fully explore Monterey and Carmel — and avoid the large number of misbehaving children who had populated the Aquarium with their parents.

Nevertheless, it was a relief to get away and take a break from work. It can be hard (read: near impossible) to recognize how much stress you give yourself until you remove yourself from it, and sometimes, finding the opportunity to return to nature; remove yourself from social media; and rediscover simple, childhood joys are the remedies you need.

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